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Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa became famous as the author of a single novel, The Leopard, the story of a noble Sicilian family during the Risorgimento. When it was first published in the late 1950s, the book was criticised by all parts of the Italian establishment: the communists pronounced it reactionary, the Catholics denounced it as anti-clerical and some literary critics considered its style outdated. His admirers believe that the Prince of Lampedusa, although conservative in his views, gave an accurate account of the undoing of Sicilian aristocracy. One wrote: "It would be wrong to identify Giuseppe Tomasi as a snob. More than anything else, he was a passionate observer." 

Burt Lancaster in The Leopard, the 1963 film of di Lampedusa's masterpiece 

This is the way Lampedusa comes across in his Letters from London and Europe — indeed, his capacity for observation is so great and his letters so prolific that one wonders if his Italian friends were always fully able to digest his dispatches. 

Lampedusa's uncle was the Italian Ambassador to Britain between 1922 and 1927, and young Giuseppe visited him in London for the first time in 1925. These trips became regular: for several years, Lampedusa would cross the Channel almost every summer. A connoisseur of English literature, he fell in love with the country that gave the world Shakespeare and Dickens. His London impressions were probably the strongest. Lampedusa quotes Charles Baudelaire's line, "Luxe, calme et volupté" ("luxury, peace and pleasure"), adding: "This city is perhaps the only one that can evoke the same emotions as nature — indeed it isn't a city, but a wood in which, together with the most dismal trees, houses have grown too."

Writing from the Hotel Grand Central in Marylebone, the Monster (as the author was known among his friends) reports on such local wonders as "672 people run over and killed by motor cars in six months, shoes walking from dawn to midnight without a speck of dust on them, 4 million lire taken in one day in a collection for the hospitals, and the policemen". He is fascinated in equal measure by things big and small. Perhaps disappointed at the state of his native Italy, Lampedusa exclaims at the site of mediaeval churches built after the Conquest: "A great race those Normans! And I wish the Lord had kept us for several centuries under their energetic wisdom!"

English cathedrals impressed him. Enthusing about their architecture, he is quick to add: "That is not to deny that the day when a purple cardinal celebrates a Pontifical Mass with incense and hymns on the high altar of Ely or Lincoln will be a truly great event." However, this is hardly a political statement — Lampedusa was a deeply private person, and his letters were written merely for his own and his friends' amusement, rather than to voice his opinions in any public form. In a typically jovial sentence, he admits he is "full of a lofty enthusiasm for Gothic churches and for cheeses, for Catholicism and for typists".

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